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When someone asks you to do something at work and he or she says 'thanks!' it almost seems like it is rhetorical but I still feel like a response is required in order to appear professional. What is the appropriate way to respond to someone asking you to do something in the workplace and following the ask immediately with "thanks!' ?

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    When you mean rhetorical thanks, do you mean they say thanks once you agree to do the work, or when they say thanks before you can agree in order to cut off any complaint? – Telastyn Mar 19 '15 at 13:32
  • @Telastyn In this particular case, and in most of the situations where this happens, I mean when they say "thanks" before you agree to do the work. – Alex W Mar 19 '15 at 14:34
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    Sometimes "thanks" is ending the conversation, then there is no need to reply. E.g. BOSS: "Hey, can you get XYZ done for me on the double?" YOU: "Sure, you'll have it by lunch." BOSS: "Thanks!" – Brandin Mar 19 '15 at 14:48
  • @Brandin Yeah. I'm curious about when it's BOSS: "Hey,can you XYZ? Thanks!" YOU: ??? – Alex W Mar 19 '15 at 14:52
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    I didn't downvote, but I would guess the question attracts downvotes because (1) it seems like an exceptionally trivial issue, and (2) it relates to general etiquette rather than a problem specific to the workplace. – user7444 Mar 19 '15 at 15:29
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"No problem" Would be an appropriate response here. The use of the word "Thanks" is a social nicety to show appreciation, and also perhaps a passive aggressive way of telling you to do something.

If you are able to complete the request, my answer, or something similar is a polite/normal way to respond to this whilst at the same time acknowledging that you understand the request and are able to complete

If you are unable to complete the request it would be best to reply in a similar fashion. Don't bluntly say "no", but something like "I may struggle with this because...."

  • without an explanation, this answer may become useless in case if someone else posts an opposite opinion. For example, if someone posts a claim like '"No problem" Would not be an appropriate response here', how would this answer help reader to pick of two opposing opinions? Consider editing it into a better shape, to fit How to Answer guidelines. – gnat Mar 19 '15 at 13:52
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    Or "my pleasure", or you're welcome", or however else you'd reply in the real world. Which is sometimes no response bur a nod, and sometimes an extended discussion of what else can be done. Most semi-sane bosses inthe US want to be treated like people .... – keshlam Mar 19 '15 at 14:31
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    Perhaps you can expand the answer slightly to make it a little clearer that apart from the social nicety aspect, you are also showing that you acknowledge the request? – Cronax Mar 20 '15 at 10:33
  • As a manager who uses "Thanks!" frequently, I can tell you that it's really meant as appreciation in advance for taking on and completing an assigned task, and just sort of a polite closing to the request. Short for "Thanks in advance" may be another way to think of it. How it's interpreted (passive aggressive, as noted here) likely depends a lot on the specific manager/employee relationship. Interesting response, thanks - I will try to be thoughtful about using this in the future. – mjulmer Mar 21 '15 at 13:17
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Personally, I am the sort of person who finds the preemptive "thanks" intolerable.

"Can you blah blah? Thanks!"

It is someone giving me an order, but doesn't have the honesty to frame it as an order. They don't give me the opportunity to manage my own time. They don't give me the opportunity to clarify requirements.

This is one of the worst possible things you can say to me.

How I respond will vary depending on the person, my mood, what the task is...

A simple "no problem", "sure thing", "by when?" or even "okay" is a fine response if the request is straight-forward, the person asking doesn't usually ask like this, the person asking is someone I need to be abundantly polite to, or I just don't feel like causing trouble at the moment.

Otherwise, I've gone with "no", "sorry, but I've got XYZ on my plate...", "I'm not your lackey/go-fer", "blah blah? a half dozen questions about requirements, possibly insinuating that the request is idiotic". The second answer is the most common (and recommended), as it's not terribly offensive and helps start a conversation about prioritization. It declines, but provides your boss with the opportunity to change their mind, overrule the priority, or otherwise get your roadblock out of your way.

The others are less advised, but I will use them to dissuade the preemptive thanks, increase my morale, and provide unambiguous dissatisfaction to my boss. And really, I cannot stand working somewhere that I just execute work mindlessly, so I care very little if such responses are taken poorly.

  • Wow, you don't read too much into innocuous comments do you? Most likely the person is just trying to be polite by saying "Thank You" for putting the task on your queue. Nothing nefarious about it. Not ordering you to do anything. That's what the "Can you" part is about. Would you rather they just say "Can you blah blah" then just turn around and walk away without acknowledging that they realize it was an additional task they just added to your queue? – Dunk Mar 19 '15 at 20:43
  • @Dunk - no, though I don't see a meaningless thanks as being notably better. – Telastyn Mar 19 '15 at 20:45
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    I guess I don't see it as a meaningless "Thanks". How else are they supposed to show that they appreciate your taking on the task? Just telling me to do xyz and not at least giving some type of feedback that they appreciate my doing xyz is far worse IMO. – Dunk Mar 19 '15 at 20:49
  • @Dunk - by acknowledging that I'm a person? They absolutely should show appreciation, and a simple "thanks" can do that - after you ask questions about the task, or otherwise agree to do it. Otherwise they're just ordering you around. – Telastyn Mar 19 '15 at 21:01
  • Our experiences must differ because I would expect someone to speak up if they had questions or could not agree to do the task before the person making the request had a chance to get to "Thanks". At a minimum, I would think body language would be a tip-off that there is an issue. I guess I haven't run into someone who just makes a request, says thanks and leaves, unless it is a manager asking their subordinate to do the part of their job they failed to do. But the few times I've seen that, it was well deserved treatment. – Dunk Mar 19 '15 at 21:19
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A thanks like this has different meanings from a boss than from others, and more importantly when it is uttered. Compare:

Boss: Can you [whatever] by Tuesday?

You: Yes I can.

Boss: Great, thanks.

with

Boss: I need to you [whatever] by Tuesday, thanks.

In the first case, you are being thanked for taking on the task or agreeing to it or whatever just happened. Though you have yet to complete the task, you have done something that merits a thankyou. It's not necessary to reply "you're welcome" or "no problem" or really anything more than a nod that you heard. You can if you want, and if you are actually super excited to [whatever] then a reply like "Happy to! Thanks for the opportunity!" or "No problem, I know this is important and I'm going to do whatever it takes to be done by Tuesday!" can be very appropriate.

The second one is entirely different. It carries with it the blatant statement "I don't need to wait for your answer; I know you will do as I ask." From a boss this is a little rude. From a peer, it's rude. From a subordinate, it's almost intolerable. I had a subordinate who used to ask me to do things and stick "p&t" on the end, short for "please and thankyou" and eventually I had to explain it was very impolite to do that and was upsetting me. I know people who do this to their children; I would recommend for yourself that you never do it to anyone. But if someone is doing it to you, I suggest:

  • for a boss, grin and bear it. They can tell you what to do without waiting for you to agree, and perhaps they think they are being polite. Don't reply to the thanks, but do reply to the first part - provide the reply they are suggesting they didn't need to wait for.
  • for a peer, a gentle "you can thank me when I've agreed to do it" once or twice should probably take care of it. With a grin if it's in person.
  • for a subordinate, the same phrase, "thank me when I've agreed to do it" is helpful or perhaps "when I ask something with please, I wait for an answer before I thank the person. You might not like my answer, after all." And then a significant pause to let them think about things they might not like.

But in the overall scheme of things, if your main workplace problem is a little too much thankyou from your boss, like could be a lot worse.

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I would have to say whatever you've come accustomed to saying in these situations will come across as the most natural and sincere. You should be fine unless you've received a lot of feedback in your lifetime that you typically lack social awareness and make inappropriate comments.

There are cultural differences and you may find your office is more like what you have experienced in the past or different in some way. There are probably examples in the office to see how others do it. Learn to study your environment to find out what is acceptable. In the mean time, just say "you're welcome" if you can't think of anything else.

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